CQ…Clark Here

Thoughts and opinions. LOTS of opinions.

Archive for the tag “Family”

I Buried my Mother Yesterday

I buried my Mother yesterday.

Those that know me might have some confusion at that statement. “Wait just a minute. Your Mom died three years ago.” Yep, that is correct.

Or, they might be creeped out, thinking that we either just now buried Mom after three years of waiting, or the poor woman was exhumed and re-interred.

None of the above would be correct.

I was adopted into the best family an adoptee could hope for. I have frequently commented that I was adopted into the Cleaver household, making reference to the TV show, “Leave it to Beaver.” I was raised well, given an education, and loved my entire life. Unfortunately, my Dad (John Peters) died in 2000, my Mom (Myrtle Dillaman Peters) in 2011, and my only sister (JoAnne Peters) this year. Weird to think I’m an orphan.

But the story doesn’t end there. Since my youth, I have known I was adopted. I guess Pop knew of other adopted kids that learned of their adoption from other people when they were teens or later, and had a bitter time of the knowledge. He was determined that would not be the case for me.   I remember he called me upstairs and sat me down and told me of my adoption. How when a baby is born, the parents love the child that was given to them, but they didn’t know anything about the baby before the baby was born. But sometimes, a family gets to choose their baby, and that’s what he and Mom did with me. They were lucky enough to have the opportunity to choose a baby to love as their own, and that was me.

I guess the words sunk in, because I recall them fifty-some years later. At the time, I just remember thinking that somehow this must be important to Dad, because he’s being so serious, but for me, he had interrupted me in the middle of a TV show, and could I please get back to “Lassie?”

Mom and Dad could have easily shut out all discussion or speculation of my birth Mom, but they did not. My entire life they made sure I honored her, that she was a good woman who had been in difficult circumstances, and did the best for her baby that she knew how to do. Bit by bit, piece by piece over the years, I put together a lot of the story. It had been a private adoption. My bio Mom had personally contacted Mom and Dad, asking them to adopt her child when born. Mom and Dad ultimately said yes. I was born in Spencer Hospital in Meadville, six weeks premature, and with a blockage between my stomach and small intestine that very nearly ended the story before it barely had begun. That at about three days old, a Nun ran down the hall to my parents, and with joy was repeating over and over, “He had a bowel movement! He had a bowel movement!” And that at five days old, my birth mother walked down the hall, put me in my adoptive mother’s arms, hugged my Mom, turned, and walked away.

My biological mother, Wilma Angerer, had been previously married and lived in Ohio as Wilma Scranton. She had six children, Barb, Tim, Mike, Bob, and most recently, twins, Bonnie and Becky. Her husband was a truck driver by trade, and although the details are a bit sketchy, the bare facts were that he was in an accident, and killed as a result. Wilma, left without a husband and with six kids, moved back to Pennsylvania to the family farm with her folks. Grief works its way through different people in different ways, and Wilma eventually found comfort for a time in the arms of another man. When she became pregnant, it became apparent to her that the man was a cad, and he was basically dismissed from her life. However, she was in a predicament. Pregnant, without a husband, and caring for six kids, the youngest three (including a set of twins) in diapers. It turns out that my folks lived a short distance from her, just a short walk through the woods. Wilma approached John and Myrtle with her dilemma, and my adoption by them was the solution.

As I grew older, my parents occasionally advised me that if I wanted to look up my bio Mom, that I should think about doing it, as “She wasn’t getting any younger.” (Really, Mom and Dad? I wasn’t sure that’s how it works, but thanks…) I happened to see in the newspaper once that pre-adoption birth certificates were available for my age range, but not for much longer. I sent away, paid the costs involved, and received the certificate in the mail. I didn’t open it for some time, but I had it by, for when I was ready.

I’m not very skilled at remembering ages, dates, and so forth, but my wife assures me that it was a little over seventeen years ago that I decided that I needed to find my bio family. I called and talked to my parents, advising them that I was ready to meet my birth Mom. After a brief search, they got me her address, and I wrote to her, explaining the situation, and where I was. I remember the stress and fear that accompanied that letter: what if she rejected me; what if she didn’t want anything to do with me? I needn’t have worried, that was far from the case. She wrote back, and we corresponded a couple of times before we were able to meet. I was a secret that she had carried for forty years. She said that she had to “explain a few things to her family,” and after that, we met. Beth and I drove to her small home in western PA, and for the first time in forty years, I saw the woman who had carried me and bore me, and had the courage to let me go when she knew she couldn’t care for me as she wanted. After that, she wanted me to meet my brothers and sisters (I have brothers and sisters?) and extended family, and it was arranged. Beth and I drove to the fire hall, and met her family (MY family!). My parents were also invited, and it was with much fear and trepidation that we got together. It was a good meeting, and after, my Dad said (one of those things I treasure) that he watched me interact with my biological family, and he was proud of me.

Over the years, we got together with my bio when we could, and learned some of the family history. We have met some family that are more than family; they are friends, and folks I we would hang around even if not related. The fact that we are, just makes it better.  There are many that I want to get to know better if time permits.

But the problem with time is that it continues to pass (Really, Clark? Nobody knew that’s how it works, but thanks…). Nobody gets younger, and last summer we got together with the Scranton/Surrrarrer clan, with the matriarch, Wilma, present for the last time. She knew then that she was slowing down, and started her preparations then. Since then the slow-down spiral picked up its pace, and five days ago, my Mother left this plain for the promise of a better eternity.

Yesterday, on a beautiful, chilly October day, we laid our mother, our sister, aunt, and grandmother to rest. I reflected a lot yesterday, amid tears and pain, comfort and emotions. I wished that I had more time with her, to really get to know her. In my experience, life and distance are do not cooperative toward that end, and I will carry this regret with me the rest of my life. Of course, that isn’t the only regret, I will just add that to the pile, I guess.

I am proud of my adoptive family, proud to be a Peters/Dillaman. My cousins are precious to me, and I am grateful for their friendship, and the memories we share. I am a product of the nurture I received from my parents and extended family.

And I am proud of my biological family, proud to be a Scranton/Surrarrer. With all the drama, with all the emotion, this is the stock from which I came. This mix of chromosomes and genes are part of what makes me who I am. I have my mother’s ears. I have my Uncle’s smile. My oldest sister and I have the exact same eyes. I have my brothers’ temper. I am the product of a nature, a lineage that is good, is bad, and simply is what it is.

I buried my mother yesterday. This woman carried and bore me, and with regret and pain, give me up to be raised by the best family I could have asked for. For my whole life, my biological Mother never demanded a thing from me, and waited until I was ready to develop a relationship, waited for me to see her, allowed me to set the pace of the times we were together, loved me, loved my wife and my family. She gave me a family, and friends that I treasure.

I have visions of both of my mothers meeting and hugging, thanking each other, one thanking the other for raising her son in such a wonderful home, and then in turn the other thanking the first for giving up her son so their family could have a son to treasure the rest of their lives.

Most people love their families, and are proud to associate with them. I am luckier than most. I have two families of which I am proud. Proud to belong, proud to share. One family I get to share a history memories. The other I get to share blood. I AM a Peters/Dillaman. I AM a Scranton/Surrarrer. And it is good.

Rest well, beautiful woman. Rest well, my Mother. You were proud, you were strong. You faced hardships and pushed through them, raising the strongest bunch of hard-headed hill folk that I have ever known, and I am PROUD to be one of them, just as hard-headed, just as hill. You done good, you fought the good fight, and you have earned your rest. But you are not gone, and will not be forgotten. A part of you lives in me, in my brothers and sisters, in our kids and in theirs. I miss you, and I mourn not for you, but for us. Vaya con Dios, mi Madre. Walk with God. I love you.

“I am the grandson of Oscar, the spitting image of Wilma my mother, and when nighttime comes my Daddy John is still my biggest fan.  That’s who I am.”  Jessica Andrews here: http://youtu.be/Jd9zYKLepCw

Interesting.

“May you lead an interesting life.”

I have no proof of this, but I have always been given to understand that this is an old Chinese curse.  I used to think that such a thought was silly; who wants to lead a boring life.  Then I understood just how stressful and difficult it can be when one’s life is “interesting,” and I longed for a life that was perhaps a bit less “interesting.”  I even found that for a while.  However, I find myself at a place now where my life is again a bit interesting.

For a while I’ve been in a bit of a quandary.  I have wanted to post here, but was finding it difficult to develop a relevant topic.  And then I heard Jeremy Riddle’s “Sweetly Broken” on our local Christian radio station, WCTL (BTW, they also stream and can be found at www.WCTL.org).  This song touched me, and after pondering for a while, I realized why my life is currently interesting and why this song resonated at this point in time.  There are several components to where I am right now.

First, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in an odd state of mind.  It occurred to me that I was quite frightened of a situation in which I am close to finding myself.

In previous posts I have discussed our Pastor, Bob Klecan in one reference or another.  I have had the privilege of grabbing an occasional cup of coffee with him on several occasions.  We have discussed everything from theology and “the church” to The Beatles, Vietnam, and sports.  And two things I have noticed: First, Bob Klecan is extremely smart.  And second, he is often underestimated.  He is a very humble man, able to discuss a variety of topics, understands deep issues, and can preach the word in a way that is understandable both in theory and in application.

I once asked him, “How do you deal with people underestimating you all the time?”  The look on his face was priceless.  He was shocked, first of all because it is true, he is consistently underestimated, but also because someone noted that fact.  He asked me how I knew that.  My reply was that it was easy for me to recognize that in him because I am underestimated all the time as well.

Note to all.  I am not bragging here, and this is not a “How cool am I?” piece.  Puffing myself up is not my style, far from it.  But I need to acknowledge  some things in this post which could look like bragging.  Not so.

Anyhow, with that proviso, I admit that I’m a fairly smart individual.  I enjoy learning and I enjoy experiencing new thoughts and new situations.  However, I come from a blue-collar family, solidly middle-class; not intentionally identifying ourselves as intellectual.  My Father was a non-commissioned officer in the army in WWII, and after that a farmer.  After selling the farm (where I grew for the first six years of my life), Dad purchased a service station in Springboro, PA.  He later took a job as a tool and die maker, working in that job until he retired.  Dad also did tax work on the side, which is about the only post-High School education he had.  Mom, due to family situations prior to marriage, did not have a chance to complete High School.  Relatively common in her era.

My point in giving some description of my family’s levels of education is to show that I do not come from a background of  higher education.  Some people come from families of doctors, attorneys, accountants, whatever.  Those families more or less expect their children to also get an education, the key word being also.  I did not grow up in that situation.

Although they had no college background, my family expected me to go to college, and it was just understood that I was going to college my entire life.    It wasn’t until decades later I discovered that when my parents adopted me, the judge granting the adoption made my parents promise that their son would get an education.  My parents were two of the most honest and honorable people I have ever known and when they made that promise, they were determined to keep it.  And they did.

My high school years were spent in Saegertown Area High School (they called it Penncrest, but we that went to Saegertown knew better).  I kind of coasted through high school, and struggled through my undergraduate work at Penn State.  I wasn’t much of a student at that time, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find new stuff fun.  I did.  Leaving home and going to Behrend College of Penn State for the first time was cool!  Going to Main Campus from Behrend was cool!  Getting into my major class work as a junior and senior was cool, and I did a lot better, gradewise.  Within a few months of graduating from Penn State, I got a job as a policeman, my dream job, and I have been a policeman for over thirty years.

All this background is to get to this:  my entire life I have hidden my intelligence, my drive, and my love of learning and knowledge.  Cops are the best bunch of people one could ever find outside the military, and I am honored and privileged to belong to that fraternity.  And cops hate a peg that sticks out.  If someone is unique, cops will do whatever it takes to pound that person back into the hole.  This isn’t necessarily an “I’m threatened” kind of thing, either.  We depend on each other for our lives.  Very few professions worry about some knucklehead deciding for whatever reason to put a bullet into them because they had a bad day.  Cops have to know, viscerally, that the guy next to them is dependable, and will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.  A fellow officer’s oddities and uniqueness makes cops nervous, so they do what they must to feel secure that they are safe.  And that includes figuratively beating on intellectually minded people (I was also different from most cops because of the “peculiar and strange” values I brought with me due to my understanding of Christianity, but that isn’t what I’m discussing here).  So I learned (at least to some degree) to suppress that part of me.  Note:  This is not a value judgement or a criticism.  I understand the necessity of what cops do, and it is what it is.  It’s just not all that pleasant sometimes.

So here I am, thirty (plus) years later, and I find myself in a new position.  I am the Chief of Police at a University in northwestern Pennsylvania, Edinboro University of PA.  I enjoy this stage of my career, partly because of the position, of course.  I think I am doing some good where I am, and I have the chance to make a great police department even a bit better.  But for me, part of the uniqueness is being on a college campus.  I am an administrator at an institution that not only appreciates intelligence, it encourages people to apply that intelligence and to develop it.  I have found myself on various committees that I would have never dreamed of a few years ago, and I am enjoying that.  I find myself in debates with friends on the far end of the political scale from me, and have loved the debate.  My wife and I have visited an “Athiests and Agnostics” meeting, and I now have a couple of acquaintances that intrigue me and I look forward to developing a relationship with them.

And here is where I found myself frightened.  I find that I am close to being seen as a “smart” person, someone who, if not exactly an intellectual, enjoys intellectual debate and can hold his own in that area.  And not only seen as smart, but valued because of that.  I have suppressed that part of me for so long that it is scary to tap into it.  As a couple of examples, when we attended the Athiest and Agnostic meeting, the discussion was based on John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty,” an essay he had written in 1849.  It is a philosophical treatise on Utilitarianism, and definitely not light reading.  I read it for the discussion, and I loved it!  I have not participated in philosophical readings or discussion in over ten years, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that.  I also took college level Spanish 101 and 102 this summer, and my comprehension of a foreign language was better than I have ever experienced.

There are also a number of events occurring this summer.  I am stepping out on a number of issues: instead of sitting in one place, Beth and I took the conscious step to confront some issues that had been effecting us.  So instead of just passively standing still and taking shot after shot from life, we decided to deal with it, and consequently we are in a much better place now.  I decided to have needed corrective surgery that I had been putting off for some time (healing nicely, thank you).  We are dealing with the loss of my Mother last fall, as well as other family issues.  I volunteered to be on a council that is quite frightening in and of itself, but I felt led to do volunteer, and so was obedient.  And we are going back to the Dominican Republic in January.

If you have read my posts regarding the one-week missions trip to the Dominican Republic which started this blog, you already know how astounding it is that I would want to go back this year.  I didn’t just kind of not want to go to the DR, I did not want to go, and I was angry that I had agreed to go and was being held to that agreement.  But, being the son of honorable people, I was determined to honor that commitment, even if I hated every single second of the time I was there. Read my posts in chronological order to see the progression, but suffice it to say that God worked in amazing ways in me over that week. I came back from the DR with a renewed spirit and huge gratitude for God’s love for me.

This year, I felt that we needed to go back.  However, no one at church had made any effort for that to happen and I felt God’s prompting to be the driver.  I contacted our team leader from last year, we conferred with Pastor Klecan, and we got a game plan together.  Last Sunday at church I made an announcement regarding the trip, and seventeen people showed up to discuss their participation in the DR trip in January.  Fifteen want to go, but only four can fund the trip for themselves, and the deadline for the down payment (and thus one’s ability to go in January) is two weeks from tomorrow.  This past week, an anonymous donor paid for five to go.  We have six to fund.

I have been battered and bruised.  Crushed, numb.  But I see changes in me, in the way I view things, in my outlook.  I see healing and the return of my desire to excel, to learn, to push myself and to “push the envelope.”  Although I am more than a little uneasy at where I am right now, I feel my sense of God’s presence returning and it is far from boring.

An interesting life?  Yeah, it sure is.  And for now, I love it.  Sweetly Broken?  I’m not sure I completely understand that concept yet, but I’m far closer to understanding it than I was.

Check out Jeremy Riddle’s song “Sweetly Broken” here: http://youtu.be/fyJuKHvoPGc.

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing

For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

Chorus:
At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified

You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled

Chorus:

In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness

(2x’s)
Chorus:

Not Saint, not Satan. She was my Mom. Part II.

When Dad died, Mom immediately packed her stuff and moved closer to us.  We had counseled her to wait a while, but she was determined.  In retrospect, I think she had always had a man to take care of her (she did, after all, grow up in that era), and it seemed she wanted me to kind of take over Dad’s position in her life.  I think she was always a bit bitter that I would not do that; I had my own family, my own life that I had to take care of.  On the other side of the coin, she was proud of the fact that she did so much that she didn’t know she could on her own.

But try as I might (and I tried a lot), I couldn’t get Mom to integrate into our lives.  Multiple times we asked her to bring her crocheting or knitting (she was phenomenal) to the house and just spend the evening, but she couldn’t do that.  So, as time went by, I think our relationship suffered.  There was never any doubt of my love for my Mom, nor of her love for me.  It’s just that our worlds didn’t seem to ever mesh.  The “Dillaman guilt” definitely had a field day with me.

And it was difficult.  As Mom aged, she got more “old lady-ish;” set in her ways, demanding, and a bit mean.  Everyone loved Mom, and I frequently heard how sweet she was.  But I think it’s often different for close family.  I’m not saying she wasn’t sweet, she was, but I didn’t always see that side.  Being my Mom, she never hesitated to criticize me, or let me know I wasn’t calling or stopping in enough.  But from my perspective, I was doing what I could.  It’s just that Mom had never made a life for herself without her family.  To Mom, (and I suspect the Dillaman family of Oscar and Inez), family was everything.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my extended family, but I also have a life; full, busy, interesting.  And it was hard to reconcile the two.  When Beth and I would go on vacation, I would always call my mother to let her know we were on the way, having discussed our vacation plans in advance with her.  She always said, “Have a great time, don’t even think about me.”  No manipulation there, boy.  It took a long time for me to realize that what she was actually saying was, “I depend on you, you’re all I have.  What if something happens to you, who’ll take care of me?”  It made me sad, because Mom was capable of so much more, she just didn’t know it, believe it, or try for more.

And as she got older still, it got more difficult still.  Beth, having the more flexible work schedule, bore the brunt of Mom’s doctor appointments, dentist, eye doctor, whatever.  Beth was fantastic with Mom.  And as much as Mom loved Beth, it was me that she talked about.  Kind of hurt Beth a bit.  But when Mom was with me, I only heard critiques of my driving, handwriting, whatever.  And “the old days.”  She talked a lot about when I was young, but did not much talk about her memories as I got older.  I think when I got to about age ten, it became so hard for Mom to let go that she just treasured the earlier years and pined for that “golden time.”  She used to say that I was “their whole world.”  A lot.  I just wanted to be their son, not their “whole world.”

Her dying was no less difficult.  Age 90, she fell and cracked her pelvis.  The doctor said that structurally, she was no weaker than Beth or I, but that the pain associated with walking was terribly intense.  Mom had been living in Brevillier Village in Erie, PA for a while, in independent living up to this point.  However, after the fall they moved her into nursing care for rehab.  She tried, but the pain was so bad that she had a hard time coping.  And this was a woman who even at her age could handle pain like no one I’d ever seen.  No matter what, Mom was no whiner when it came to personal pain.

She also had a problem with her white blood cell count; Strike two.  We had known about this for some time, but she had refused any treatment, deciding to let it run its course.  I wasn’t really happy with this decision, but it was hers to make.

After the injury, her white blood cell count went through the roof.  Additionally, due to the fall, Mom had a section of her bowel go necrotic.  Strike three.  The doctor said Mom would need an operation to remove that section of bowel, but with her white blood cell count in the stratosphere, it was pretty much a done deal that she would not survive the operation.  With these problems, the doctor said it was just a matter of time, that she could not come back from this.  I took as much time off work as I could, and Beth and I sat by her bed, playing music she would like, talking to her, and just being near.  As she slipped away, she could only rouse herself when company came, especially her granddaughters.  She loved them dearly, and smiled for them, enjoying their company like nothing else.

As time moved, Beth and I got exhausted, and Mom’s sister, my Aunt Phoebe, came to the hospital to spell us.  I cannot say how helpful that was, that Beth and I got a chance to sleep in our own bed at home.  But my Mom was slowing down, like a grand old clock who’s spring was tired, and simply could not be wound up again.  Mom slipped more, seldom rousing for anything.  It was hard watching my Mother die, but this was the last thing I could ever do for her on this earth, and I would not have been anywhere else in the world.  Beth and I sat by her bed, twenty-four seven.  We took turns sleeping; the staff at Ball were amazing, and more helpful than I can describe. They would make sure that we had coffee, snacks, juice.  Beth or I would get tired, and one of us would go to the library and sleep as best we could on the sofa, and then switch off so the other could get a few hours sleep.  Somehow, at some point, a hospital bed appeared in the library, and we took advantage of that.  It felt so good to stretch out.

There is a cat that prowls the halls of Ball Pavillion.  She is friendly, but not overly so.  However, as we talked to the staff, they told us of one of the cat’s peculiarities.  It seems that, although she was friendly with many, when one of the residents were failing, the cat spent a great deal of time in that resident’s room, often being there for hours on the day that the resident finally died.  Not one to put a ton of stock in stuff like this, I did notice on this one particular day that the cat was in Mom’s room quite a bit; rubbing on Mom’s bed, jumping on my lap and staying for quite a while.

That night, I was beat and at one point went to the library, just down the hall from Mom’s room.  I might have been asleep for half an hour when Beth woke me and said that I better come to Mom’s room, something had happened.  Getting out of bed, I staggered down to Mom’s room, and found that as Beth had observed, Mom’s breathing was ragged and irrhythmic.  We watched her breathing slow, and finally stop.  The grand old clock was tired and had run down.  I closed my Mother’s eyes as I had my Father’s, and we mourned.  We stayed with her for a while, and walked down the hall with her to the funeral home vehicle, where she would ride to get prepared for her funeral.  The staff and Mom’s best friend at Brevillier lined up and sang farewell as Mom was escorted out to the waiting vehicle.

A number of relatives and friends came to Mom’s viewing, and Mom had been made up beautifully.  Beth had picked out one of Mom’s favorite dresses and jewelery, and she looked at peace.  We got through the day, as all do who have to lay a loved one to rest, and went home.  The next morning, I got a lawn chair and a cup of coffee and drove up to the cemetery where my Mom and Dad were once again side by side.  I opened up the chair and sat there, watching the sun come up.  I talked to Mom and told her how beautiful she had looked, that her hair was done just like she would have wanted, that Beth had picked out a wonderful dress.  I told her that I missed her, and wished that things had been different.  But I was glad for how nice she looked on her last day.  Weird, but right then a shooting star arced its way across the sky.  I don’t know if there is that kind of communication from “the other side,” but it was nice.

I sometimes wonder what Mom said to relatives and friends, if she praised me or pounded me.  But I guess in the final analysis it doesn’t matter.  I did the best I knew how with what I had.  I loved my Mother the only way I could.  We were who we were.

I still miss my Mother, no surprise there.  I think of her, and although I am sad for me, I am happy for her.  For years all she professed was that she wanted to be with my Dad again.  Now she is.

A lot of people hated their mother.  Due to abuse, neglect, whatever, they are cursed with memories of evil incarnate instead of a loving mother who did all she could to raise her children.  Others put a photo of their mother on an altar, elevating their mother to near deity, refusing to remember any blemish, any imperfection that their mother may have had.  My mother was neither saint nor satan.  She was a flawed human that loved her family with everything she had.  She raised her children, loved them, and cherished them with her whole being.

May God bless you, Mom.  I owe you and Pop everything that I am, all that I turned out to be.  I hope you are proud of what I have accomplished, and I hope to see you someday again, when we are all exactly what we were created to be.  I can’t wait to look into your eyes again, and see the Mother that raised me, loved me, taught me.  You were the best.

Not Saint, not Satan. She was my Mom. Part I.

My Mother grew up during the depression, getting married just before World War II.  Dad was drafted, and Mom bore my sister while Dad was fighting in France.  My sister is what is now called a “Special Needs” child, and Mom took the brunt of caring for her without Dad for a while, in a time when such children were viewed with suspicion; my Grandmother, Dad’s Mother, told Mom once when JoAnne was little that, “Nothing like that had ever happened on Dad’s side of the family,”  not so subtly indicating that it was Mom’s fault that JoAnne had the problems she did.  In reality, when JoAnne was born, Mom had a doctor that believed in “letting nature take its course.”  JoAnne was born after an extremely long labor with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck.  Not Mom’s fault, but I wonder if she harbored guilt over that the rest of her life.

Actually, that’s not much of a stretch.  Guilt was one of the driving forces in my Mother’s life.  She felt guilty for everything.  I once observed to her that she felt guilty when the sun came up in the east.  She didn’t really get it, but it is near fact.  For some reason, she always felt guilty about something.

Mom was the second youngest of five born to Oscar and Inez Dillaman, the oldest being a boy, the rest girls.  Certainly not uncommon for the time, she grew up on a farm.  They were located a few miles north of Meadville, PA, and the daughters did chores just like the men.  When she became of age, she got a job at Talon, met my Dad, fell in love, got married, and got pregnant.  With Dad off to war, she lived with her folks, taking care of her ailing mother (and handicapped infant daughter) for a time.  Once, Mom used to tell, JoAnne had a seizure.  In the dead of winter, they didn’t plow the roads as they do now, and no vehicle they had would get through the snow.  JoAnne wouldn’t come out of the seizure, so Mom bundled her and JoAnne up, along with Mom’s father and brother.  They carried JoAnne for miles until they could get someplace (Coon’s Corners, PA, I think) where they got a ride and got JoAnne to the hospital.

Another story she liked to tell was when she was thirteen.  Mom developed appendicitis, and it got bad.  They called the doctor, who gave no hope that she would live.  I believe it actually burst, as they opened her up and rinsed her out with salt water, leaving a drain in her to drain the nastiness out.  Of course she lived, growing, maturing, and becoming the woman she was.

Mom was “made of stern stuff” we like to say.  Strong genetic material, shaped by the hardness of the life in which she grew.  Mom was also blessed with beauty.  As a young woman, she was gorgeous, and Pop got quite a catch when she “hitched her wagon” to him.  Mom was aces with family stuff, but not so much with studying and learning.  Growing up in a time when school wasn’t mandatory as it is now, Mom got a ninth grade education before having to drop out; she never did get her high school degree.

After the war, Mom and Pop moved all over this part of PA, Dad taking different jobs here and there.  He was so disillusioned with having to take orders in the military, he swore he wouldn’t work for anyone again, and used the GI Bill to learn animal husbandry, becoming a farmer, like his ancestors before him.  Sidenote: Pop was extremely smart.  Up to his late 70’s he could do algebra in his head.  I asked him once why he didn’t take accounting with the GI Bill, and he said that at the time he didn’t even know such a field existed.  I wonder how life would have been different sometimes.

Mom and Pop settled down near Springboro, PA, where Dad bought a dairy farm.  And that’s where I enter the picture.

After the war, Dad couldn’t have any more kids (I never did  learn what that was about).  I think they had disagreements over adopting, as Dad apparently didn’t think he could “love someone else’s child as much as his own.”  However, they cared for a young kid, and Dad grew to love him.  When he went back home, Pop allowed that he could, indeed, love another’s child.

My biological mother had her own issues.  Married with six kids, she lived in Ohio until her husband was killed in a trucking accident.  Moving back near her folks outside Springboro, she took up with a jerk who got her pregnant but refused to be honorable about it; she threw him out, a pretty gutsy move in 1956.  However, she was in true dire straits.  Six kids, including the youngest a pair of twins still in diapers.  Recognizing that she couldn’t give her new child the life she wanted to give him, she approached my parents, and asked if they would consider adopting her child.  Timing is everything, and my parents said that yes they would.  Three days after I was born my bio Mom walked down the hall of the hospital and handed me to my Mother.  How poignant was that moment?  I cannot even imagine the emotions from each mother.  Another sidenote:  I looked up my bio family several years ago, and that will, I’m sure, be a blog post sometime in the future.

My early years were on the dairy farm that my parents lived on until I was six.  I remember Mom doing all the Mom stuff, and canning everything that could grow.  I remember her holding my head when I was throwing up; holding me when I had bad earache(s).   Giving me waxed paper for the slide in the back yard; giving me fresh peaches in season.  I remember her being Mom.

Just before the dairy farmers in PA got their act together and actually started making money, Pop sold the farm and we moved into Springboro, where he bought a gas station.  And Mom still did all the Mom stuff.  I remember picking dandelions for her in the spring, and how she would always “Ooh” and “Ahh’ over them, like they were the most beautiful bouquet she had ever seen.  I remember coming home from school and popping my paper lunch bag; she pretended to be startled and scared every time.

Of course my relationship with my Mom changed over time.  I grew more independent, and Mom got older.  She helped teach me to drive, and held me when I cried, but as I grew and tried to establish a relationship with her, she would shift me to my Dad.  I’m not sure what that was about, but I don’t think I ever knew my Mother, adult to adult.  It was about this time that things got a more difficult.

…con’t. next time…

Useless.

That’s me.  Useless.  Worthless.  Incapable of measuring up, of succeeding at…anything.

These are the thoughts and attitudes I have had nagging at me for pretty much my entire life.  I’m not sure exactly why, but I have a few ideas about that.

I am adopted.  My bio Mom approached my folks when she was pregnant to ask if they would consider the adoption.  So, not only was I “chosen” by my parents, my parents were “chosen” by my birth mother.  I grew up knowing of the adoption, and my parents always made sure I honored my mother, even if at the time I did not know who she was; that she had made some very difficult choices under very difficult circumstances in order to see me thrive in a home that I couldn’t have had otherwise.  I looked up my biological family a few years ago, and it has proven to be wonderful.  My adoption and bio family will, in all likelihood be topics of future blogs, but for now I offer it as background.

I cannot speak for all adoptees, but in my case it was difficult on only a couple of fronts.  My parents were fantastic, and I am so grateful to have been their son.  I did, however, sometimes wonder why my mother had given me up.  I knew from my folks that it was for good reasons, but still I wondered.  And part of that, I think, lead me to wonder if I somehow didn’t measure up.  If somehow, it was my fault that I wasn’t found “worthy.”

Growing up it was generally unspoken, but I knew much was expected of me.  I rather coasted through school, with mostly B’s on my report cards, with a couple C’s and A’s thrown in.  It was sufficient, if not outstanding.  My behavior was good, no real delinquency apparent, and I was kind of a “church kid.”  But for some reason I was always striving for more, better, faster, funnier (not attained by studying, are you serious?  Get real!).  I just knew that I kind of disappointed, that I didn’t quite bring home what was expected.

I remember one time, my Grandmother was visiting, and she was standing by the upstairs stairway talking to my Dad.  She turned to me, and looking at me said, “If you ever go to jail, it would kill your parents.”  I laughed at the time, and made light of it, but that has stuck with me for over forty years.

I have worked hard to be approved of by authority figures as long as I can remember.  Not to suck up in an Eddie Haskell kind of way (for you children under thirty, that would be a Leave it to Beaver reference, Eddie being an insincere flatterer), but to perform so that I would be found acceptable.  And that is hard work.  In my case, I could never do well enough at any given task to satisfy my thirst for excellence.  No, that isn’t quite correct.  In truth, I could never do well enough to satisfy my need for perfection.  And therein lies the rub.

Any time that I failed at a task (and in my personal lexicon, the word fail means that I didn’t do it perfectly; I didn’t do it “right.”) the words “idiot!” and “moron!” would ring through my head like the words of a relentless, cold judge pronouncing sentence on a convicted felon.  Over and over, time after time, year after year.

And if this sounds like I’m whining, I do not intend it as such.  I am merely relating how I have lived for most of my life, and actually for as long as I can remember.

I serve a loving God, one who has sent his Son to save me from myself.  And through Christ’s sacrifice, I am whole, unspoiled, in a love relationship with my God and my King.  I think of Jesus as Boromir thought of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings.  I look at Jesus and see “my brother, my Captain, my King.”  And intellectually I know that all is forgiven, all is forgotten.  I know that God has chosen to forget my failures, my imperfections.  But I seldom feel it.  Idiot!  Moron!!  FAILURE!!

Beth and I are currently on Grand Cayman for a long anticipated vacation, with some of our favorite people in the entire world.  And this is paradise.  We have relaxed (I read a book!  Due to responsibilities, I cannot tell you the last time I had a chance to read), gotten in some amazing scuba dives, and spent some fantastic time together.  But even here I have had some roadblocks.  We got a flat tire.  Idiot!  I have lost my cool a couple times.  Moron!!  I have been short with Beth once or twice.  FAILURE!! 

I love the ocean.  When we are at the shore, I customarily park myself near the shore and just experience that point where wind, water and land meet.  I feel small, and yet comforted at the same time.  It is one of the few times I feel content.

One of my favorite things to do when vacationing at the ocean shore is to have my devotional time on the sand or on a balcony where I can see the ocean, hear it, smell it.  Where I can feel the breeze and see the waves, the colors, the horizon.  I have done so this week, and devotions have been good.  However, I have felt a nagging “something” that I could not pinpoint.  I have been looking to God to help me let go of…whatever this is.  And I think today I have a clue.

I decided to not open my Bible to a particular passage to read this morning.  Instead, I really felt led to focus on a bookmark entitled “My Identity/Who I am in Christ” which contains a number of key passages under various headings.  (The bookmark is published by Freedom in Christ Ministries, and as far as I know can be obtained at www.freedominchrist.com.)

Under the first heading, “I am Accepted,” it starts out with John 1:12; I am God’s child.  Comforting, but not awe-inspiring.  Ok, next, John 15:15: I am Christ’s friend.  Huh.  That’s right, I had forgotten that.  Christ looks at me as His friend.  Friends with the creator of the universe?  Nice.  And so on for several more verses.

The next heading, “I am Secure,” was the crux of the time I spent this morning.  And it only took the first verse to shock my system like a glass of ice-cold water after mowing the lawn on a hot August day.  It came from Romans 8:1-2, and it told me that “I am forever free from condemnation.”  And I stopped dead in my tracks.  I looked at the water and the waves, the perfect blue skies with perfect white clouds, and whispered, “How can you not condemn me, Lord?  I condemn myself!”  And as I pondered that, I felt the merest touch of God’s finger deep inside me, and He answered me and He said to me, “How can you condemn yourself when I do not?”  Loved!  Cleansed!!   ACCEPTED!!  NOT condemned.  NOT  a failure.  But a child of the Master.

Useless?  Yeah, probably.  Left to oneself, one can live four score years, and by strength of will maybe a bit more.  For what?  To accomplish a bit, die, and after a time, be forgotten.  But not so in Christ.  I am not condemned.  I am loved, I am accepted, and I am paid for, purchased with the most precious commodity in the world: the priceless blood of Christ, shed for any of us who recognize our hopelessness, and who long for something more.  Christ’s blood shed for me.

I expect I will still struggle with the relentless judge, pronouncing sentence upon me, with the words “Idiot, moron, failure. Useless!!”  But I don’t have to listen to the accuser.  I can rest in the promise, and wrap myself in the truth.  I am not condemned!

What a great vacation.

A Successful Father?

For some time, I have been pondering the role of a parent, specifically that of a father.  What defines a “good” father?  What is a “successful” father? Can one be a “good” father but not a “successful” one, or are they synonymous?

Note:  I fully recognize the unbelievably difficult job of being a mother.  However, not ever having any experience in being a mother, I cannot comment on motherhood in an experiential way, except to say that my wife, Beth, is the absolute best mother I have ever seen, and I am grateful to have partnered with her in the raising of our children.  This post, therefore, is specifically about “fatherhood.”  Additionally, understand that this post is not about how my children turned out, good, bad, or anywhere in between.  This post is strictly about how a father measures success.

Previously, I have mentioned my buddy John who texts me with verses, thoughts, and so on.  He recently sent me this quote from John Fuller:

So, if parenting aims at helping our kids succeed in life, what’s success going to look like …

…True Success isn’t a list of accomplishments.

…There’s something deeper to true success, something more substantial.  Something harder to achieve, harder to measure, but long-lasting and deeply meaningful.  I’m talking about intangible but ultimately significant qualities.  Things like honesty, loyalty, integrity, compassion, and character.

So, what is success, as it relates to being a father?  Assume that a child turns out well, and the father has worked hard to be a good provider, father, dad.  Does that father take any credit for the way the child has turned out?  What if the child turns out poorly, or goes in a life’s direction that the father sees as less than optimal?  Is the father then a failure?  Is a father’s success tied to how the children turn out?  Or is his success independent of the “outcome” of his child?

I was blessed with a fantastic father.  Not perfect, but a good man.  He showed me discipline, love, and I learned a lot about how to be a man by watching him.  My Dad died in 2000 at age 80 (The jerk.  I miss him every day).  He loved to tease, laugh, and devoted his life to his family.  How his children turned out (pretty good in my opinion) is irrelevant, I would rate him as a “successful” father.  If I am a good man, if I am a success, I would think that my success is at least in part due to my father’s influence.

My Grandmother, his Mother once made a statement to me.  I have no idea what prompted this; I wasn’t in trouble for anything that I can remember, I hadn’t done anything wrong that I remember, and no one was angry with me that I remember.  Yep, I had to put in that “remember” qualifier.  Being in trouble was not unheard of for me.

Anyhow, my Grandmother said to me, “It would kill your parents if you ever wound up in jail.”  What?  Grandma, what in the world are you talking about?

My parents trusted me, and I grew up with incredible freedom.  I also grew up with a huge sense of responsibility.  Heck, I didn’t want to be responsible for my parents croaking, so even if I was inclined to not care about crime and punishment, I sure don’t want to end up in jail and watch my parents die from shame…

I think that at least partly, that sense of duty carried over into my job as a husband and father.  I worked hard to be a good father, and to raise my children as spiritual beings, responsible, mature.  Although far from perfect, I worked to be consistent, and  honorable.  I want my children to know that I was the same on Friday night as I was on Sunday morning.  I was no different at church than I was at home or at a party.

So, with that understanding, am I a successful father?  If I have a child that becomes a Nobel-winning scientist that discovers the cure for cancer, I would be widely hailed as a fantastic father.  But what if a child of mine becomes a notorious serial killer.  If my parenting were identical, would I still be considered a successful father?  I imagine not.  Does it not seem likely that under the serial killer scenario, I would be considered at best a “good” father, but not a “successful” one?  And what if they weren’t a serial killer?  What if Martha Stewart were my daughter?  A financial success, great business woman, intelligent.  And a convicted felon.  Successful father?  How about Julian Assange?  Founder of Wikileaks, publishing tons of classified material for whatever reason, and (in my estimation)  guilty of the potential death of a number of service men and women, and clearly someone who has severely weakened American security.  Successful father?  Who decides?  Is it the father, the child, society, family, who?  What about the child that makes poor decisions, puts themselves in a bad situation, and suffers because of those choices, even if taught to know better by their father.  Is that father a failure?

Is a father’s success based on their child’s choices and adulthood?

I have believed for a long time that if one’s children do not turn out well, that father is useless, and a failure.  But is that accurate?

The answer, I think at least in part, is that society decides the success and failure of a father, based on how a child turns out as an adult.  Further, except in extreme examples like the serial killer scenario, various sub-sets of society will measure a father’s success or failure on two things.  First, how did that child turn out, and what kind of choices did they make?  And two, does that child’s choices and outcome fit into what that particular sub-set sees as positives?

This is further complicated by the sub-set’s notions.  Assume I am I Assange’s father.  There are those that consider him a hero, so to that sub-set, he would be a success.  However, I would likely be viewed as a “bad” father, or a “failure,” if my conservative mindset were known.  If I were a liberal, that same sub-set would see me as a success, and a good father.

So.  Although this is somewhat in contradiction to my measurement earlier of my own father, I think that in the end, “successful” father and “good” father must be measured separately.  With this viewpoint, one can be a “good” father, but not a “success” if the child turns out poorly.  I think that, for me, a man should not measure his worth and value based on how the child turned out, but in how he did as a Dad.  I think a father can be, and should be proud of his kid(s) when they turn out well, but that doesn’t make him a success.  What if the child turns out poorly?  If the father did a good job, he should be content with that and love his child as best he is able.  What if the father did a poor job?  It’s never too late to mend broken fences; it’s never too late to become the man one should be.

Are my children “good” people?  Good for them, they made good choices, their life is theirs, not mine.  Are my children not “good” people?  I am so sorry, my children, you have made poor choices, and are paying the consequences.  Either way, it is not my burden and not my glory.  I love my children more than life itself, and I wish them happy, productive, spiritual lives.

Basing one’s success as a father on how the child turns out will, I think, lead to one of two mindsets.  If the child turns out well, pride would be difficult for a father to avoid.  But it’s not his triumph; it belongs to the child.  On the other hand, if the child turns out poorly, the father can become broken-hearted, and despair may result.  Either way, I would say, “Father, let it go!  It doesn’t belong to you!”

I reflect on my life as a Dad, and as I said, I was far from perfect.  However I am a good judge of character, effort, and ability.  And from an objective point of view, I have done a good job as a parent, as a Dad.  And with that, I should be content.

Post Navigation